"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never break me." ~The Christian Recorder, African Methodist Episcopal Church, March 1862
Last Sunday was almost perfect. My daughter, Yael, took me out to a lovely restaurant for a belated birthday brunch. The weather was quintessential Chicago spring: sunny with gorgeous blue, blue skies. It could be a tease, since the Windy City has been known, more than once, to follow such a day with a random snowstorm, just to keep things interesting. I drove to meet my daughter with the sunroof open, the sun filling the car with a delicious and most welcome warmth.
Thanks to Waze, I was on time, and snagged the last spot in a parking lot quite close to the restaurant. Free parking because it was Sunday. Hooray! My daughter let me know that she was running late; no matter. I stood outside, indulging in two of my favorite pastimes: people-watching and online word games.
The day continued in a similar, delightful vein. We had a lovely meal. We enjoyed one another's company. We wandered around the neighborhood, stumbling upon a store that had many of the things that Yael needed for her upcoming trip. Afterwards, I dropped her off at her place and continued on to do a few errands of my own before heading home.
One of those stops was a suburban Bed Bath & Beyond. I got what I needed and headed back to my car. In and out in ten minutes. Excellent! I was grateful that the mall put stop signs outside busy stores like BBB to allow pedestrians to return safely to their cars. I had taken a few steps into the crosswalk when a motorist bore down on me. I gestured meaningfully toward the stop sign. The driver shouted, "I don't have to stop." Then, she added, "You could walk faster if you took off some weight." Her tone was almost conversational, the venom carried by the words alone. Pow.
I was stopped in my tracks, speechless, my mouth agape. I was astounded by the comment as well as the rage oozing from this person. She looked like she was going to implode. In the seconds before she sped away, I checked her out. She wasn't a teenager, or even a young woman. She looked to be middle-aged or older. Hmmmm.... What did that signify?
And then, suddenly, other emotions began pouring out of me. I was enraged. Sure, like everyone else, I get mad, but mostly with some modicum of distance. But this feeling was right there in my face, so to speak, and it wouldn't be denied. I wanted to toss off some brilliantly scathing remarks about how I could take off weight but no matter what she did, she would still be a complete jerk. Mostly, I just sputtered. I felt powerless, humiliated, eviscerated, paralyzed. All of the above.
Next, I wanted to spring after her and key her car or something equally destructive and stupid but momentarily, oh so satisfying. To attack and decimate her. Like she had done to me, with just a few, well-chosen words.
Finally, I was flooded with a tremendous, overwhelming shame. My face got very, very hot. I was ashamed. She had shamed me. And I'm not used to that. But, here it was, this shame bomb, landing at my feet with a loud thump.
Yes, I carry some unwanted, unwelcome pounds. Yes, I wish they were not there and I've developed some good habits to combat them. Also relevant: even when I was at a perfectly acceptable weight, I was a slow walker. I always got where I needed to go, but not that quickly.
Not that it would have mattered to this woman. Nothing mattered to her other than the fact that I was keeping her from getting where she wanted to go, when she wanted to get there. The ironic part of this is that this whole exchange probably took thirty seconds. My admitted meandering across the street cost her three seconds, tops. After all, how wide is a car? Five or six feet, at the most? How many steps is that? Four or five teeny tiny steps, maybe, but normal strides - two? Three?
I retreated to my car and sat there and shook. I wanted to crawl under a rock and disappear. I wanted to climb into my bed and stay there forever. I had had an exceptionally nice day, and this brief interlude had the power, if I let it, to blot that out. How sad is that?